Area constables support bill that would change training requirements

Published 6:46 pm Monday, February 12, 2018

Constables across the Northeast Tennessee area are getting behind a bill sponsored by local lawmakers to improve the minimum training standards for the elected law enforcement officers.

Constables are elected law enforcement officers who serve their local communities and have the same authority of arrest under state law as do sheriff’s deputies and police officers. Each of Carter County’s eight districts is served by two elected constables.

Currently, state law requires that each constable complete 40 hours of in-service training within one year of their election to the post. The current law does not require any continuing training after that initial 40 hours.

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Two local lawmakers — State Rep. Timothy Hill and State Sen. Rusty Crowe — have introduced bills in the Tennessee General Assembly that would change the law to require constables to undergo a minimum of 40 hours of in-service training each year they hold office.

The Tennessee Constables Association is backing the bill, and members of the organization worked with the lawmakers to help draft the legislation.

“Training is something we need to continue to have each year,” said Kent Harris, Executive Director & CEO of the Tennessee Constables Association. “It helps us keep up with new laws, like cell phones in school zones. A lot of constables work school zones, and they need to know about that change.”

Harris is a constable serving in Sullivan County, and he has seen first-hand how important it is to keep up with training.

“You’re always coming up on new things,” Harris said.

According to Harris, many of the constables serving in Northeast Tennessee are already meeting the proposed standard of training because they are dedicated to serving their community.

“Most of the fellows who get their training here have it every year,” Harris said. “You get away from Northeast Tennessee, and you don’t have the training we do here. We want to make that a standard state-wide.”

Proper training can help protect a constable, not just out in the field but in a courtroom according to Constable Ken Potter, who serves Carter County’s 7th District.

Constables are particularly vulnerable to civil lawsuits because they do not have some of the legal buffers that are available to law enforcement officers working for a sheriff’s department or police department, Potter said.

“He can be sued at any time and lose everything he has worked for all his life,” Potter said. “When something like that happens the first thing they want to know about is his training, what kind of training did he have.”

Potter, who is a certified law enforcement instructor, said staying informed about changes in the law and changes in procedure are important for a constable in the performance of their duties.

“If you know what the law is and you stay within the law, you won’t have any trouble,” Potter said.

Like Harris, Potter said it has also been his experience that local constables are already receiving the annual training that would be required under the proposed change in state law.

“I do not know of a single constable in office right now in Carter County who is not meeting this standard,” Potter said.